The Hidden Secret To Longevity Revealed: A Lesson From WWII POWs

Japanese soldiers stand guard over American prisoners of war just before the start of the Bataan Death March following the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1942.

I’ve been reading books and blog posts about World War II lately.  Not sure how I got on this kick, but it’s been fascinating nonetheless.  One particular part of the war piqued my interest: the US surrender in the Philippines in 1942.  And it holds a great lesson for anyone who wants to live longer.

See, in 1942 General Douglas MacArthur was forced to abandon 76,000 US and Filipino troops on the Bataan peninsula as Japan overran their forces. What followed was one of the most harrowing and disturbing tales of the war.

US and Filipino soldirs carry the dead and wounded in the Bataan Death March.

After fighting off the Japanese forces for months, the Allies were finally forced to surrender in May of 1942.  They were forced into what became the Bataan Death March, where thousands of US and allied soldiers, already suffering from starvation, were forced to walk for 6 days in searing heat without food to prison camps.

Tens of thousands of POWs died on the march.  But what they encountered in the prison camps was far worse.  Diseases like Dengue fever, malaria and dysentery ravaged the prisoners.  The Japanese guards routinely tortured the prisoners, and did their best to kill the POWs through starvation.

But this is a story of survival.  Because tens of thousands of solders DID survive.  And the survivors often did one thing that the ones who perished did not: they got to work.

Yes, reading survivors stories over and over again you’ll notice one thing they all had in common: the survivors had a purpose, and that purpose was to serve their fellow POWs.

Some dug graves day in and day out since their Japanese captors refused to do it themselves.  Some simply cared for the ones who were too sick to care for themselves.  Some cooked and cleaned up the camp to try to make it more livable for everyone.  None of them were getting enough calories from the stingy Japanese guards to justify expending great effort all day.  By all rights they should have been resting and recovering.  But they worked day after day in the suffocating tropical heat anyway.

US soldiers after rescue from Japanese POW camps

Now you might be thinking “The survivors probably didn’t have the same diseases, or just had better genetics!” Well that might be true in some cases, but over and over again you see stories of the starving survivors, still suffering from dysentery or malaria just like the others, getting up every day to help their fellow man. And the men they were burying had simply given up.

And we see this in numerous other studies, including Holocaust stories and most recently the Blue Zones study conducted by National Geographic.  They studied the places where people live the longest.  And despite a wide variety of diets, exercise routines, and religions, ALL the people in these places had a specific purpose: to care for loved ones and their community.

It just goes to show how powerful Purpose is.  It gets you out of bed in the morning.  It keeps you going when times are bleak.  And, if these POWs are any indication, it most likely extends your life.

So, what’s your purpose?  Hit us back at [email protected] with your thoughts…

PS: This weird algae has been proven to extend people’s lives.